NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department has launched a sweeping inquiry into the Recent York Police Department’s famed sex crimes investigators following years of complaints in regards to the way they treat crime victims.
The civil rights investigation, announced Thursday, will examine whether the NYPD’s Special Victims Division engages in a pattern of gender-biased policing, officials said.
“Survivors of sexual assault should expect effective, trauma-informed and victim-centered investigations by police departments,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Recent York City’s two U.S. attorneys joined her in announcing the inquiry.
The police unit inspired TV’s “Law & Order: SVU,” and the real-life version has tackled such major cases because the prosecution of former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. However the division also has faced a decade of complaints about thin staffing and superficial investigations.
In a 2019 lawsuit, a girl alleged detectives shrugged off her report of being raped by someone she’d been involved with, logging it as a “dispute” as an alternative of a sex crime. One other woman said within the suit that her account of being kidnapped and gang-raped was grossly mishandled for months before she was told the case was “too complex” to research.
After the lawsuit and a leadership shakeup, the NYPD promised change. But victims’ advocates say it hasn’t happened.
“We hope the Justice Department’s investigation and our lawsuit will finally end in real change for victims and survivors of sexual assault in Recent York City,” said the ladies’s lawyer, Mariann Wang.
The NYPD said it welcomes the review and is committed to improving its investigations.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said she believed any “constructive” review would “show that the NYPD has been evolving and improving on this area, but we can be transparent and open to criticism in addition to ideas.”
Mayor Eric Adams, a retired police captain who took office in January and appointed Sewell, said she immediately took steps to be certain that the unit was “skilled.”
“We weren’t sitting on our hands,” the Democrat said.
Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said the NYPD has already taken steps to deal with concerns, but authorities need to ensure victims are treated fairly in the long run.
Justice Department officials said they planned a comprehensive review of policies, procedures and training for the Special Victims Division’s sex assault investigations — including how police interact with survivors and witnesses, collect evidence and complete investigations.
The officials also need to see what steps the police department has taken to repair deficiencies, including the unit’s staffing and its services for sexual assault survivors.
The Weinstein case spotlighted the sex crimes division, which helped construct a prosecution that ended with a watershed conviction for the #MeToo movement. But along the best way, prosecutors dropped one in all the fees in 2018, after evidence surfaced that a detective had coached a witness and told an accuser to delete material from her cellphone.
A lawyer for the lady whose allegation was dropped from the case has faulted prosecutors for what happened. She said Thursday that she welcomed shining light on police practices, offering a mixed view of the police sex crimes unit.
“Our experience is that many viable sexual assault cases are tossed out by police on the earliest stages of investigation,” said the attorney, Carrie Goldberg. “However, a number of the most consequential sexual assault prosecutions of recent history — for instance, that of Harvey Weinstein — were driven by the tenacity of dedicated NYPD investigators.”
Successor Michael King, appointed in 2020, was a veteran investigator and forensic nurse. King was faraway from the job in February, amid complaints about his leadership and continued mishandling of cases.
Last October, a girl who identified herself as a rape victim told a City Council hearing that detectives did not interview witnesses, collect security camera footage from the bar where she’d been before the attack, or test for date-rape drugs. She said they closed the case twice without telling her.
In one other case, detailed in a 2020 article in The Recent York Times, a Recent York University student said a sex crimes detective openly doubted her allegation that a stranger had raped her in her apartment. The investigator talked her out of moving forward and shut down the case, she said.
The suspected rapist, identified through fingerprints on a condom wrapper found on the apartment, was later jailed on burglary charges — but ended up being released and assaulting three more women since the Special Victims Division never told prosecutors he was a rape suspect, the Times reported.
The unit has also been under scrutiny, including from the NYPD’s internal affairs bureau, for allegedly mishandling rape kits and for investigators allegedly shortchanging the department on hours worked.
Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said sex crimes victims “deserve the identical rigorous and unbiased investigations of their cases that the NYPD affords to other categories of crime.”